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Unlike the NBA, football needs to be less elite, says Blatter’s rival

The Frenchman explains how globalisation has impacted football and why it is necessary to introduce new, dynamic rules to reinvigorate the sport.

Panjim |
March 15, 2014 6:42:32 am

Former deputy secretary general of FIFA, Jerome Champagne, announced in January that he will contest for the post of FIFA’s president in the elections in April 2015. Talking on the sidelines of the Goa International Football table organised by Goa Football Development Council, the Frenchman explains how globalisation has impacted football and why it is necessary to introduce new, dynamic rules to reinvigorate the sport.

What makes you throw you hat into the ring for FIFA presidency?

If you look at past 20 years, globalisation has had a positive impact on football. It is the No.1 sport without any doubt. But it has come with difficulties. The first one is the gap between wealthy clubs, leagues and players, and the rest has increased. So has the gap between continents, countries of the same continents and the clubs playing in same competitions. Two decades ago, it was still possible for a club from Netherlands, Norway, Eastern Europe or my country France to go very far in the Champions League. Now it’s not possible. The gap between clubs is so huge. The way money in Champions League is distributed across Europe is distorting the competitions in every country. These inequalities are placing the game in a position of danger. Second reason is the privatisation of the game. Foreign governments and private companies invest in a team not for the love of the game. For instance, in the French league we have a Qatari club (PSG), a Russian club (Monaco) competing for top two spots and 18 French clubs are competing for the third. It is unfair. Lastly, a lot of accusations leveled against FIFA are unfair. Mr Sepp Blatter is not a corrupt man. FIFA is not a corrupt organisation. Football institutions have lost credibility. I decided to stand because this perception needs to change.

How big an issue is this disparity?

It’s ‘elitisation’ or ‘NBA-isation’ of football, where the concentration is on one percent of the countries, players and clubs. Football will become like basketball. In basketball, you have the NBA and the rest; in that game, the world basketball federation has no control over the NBA and it is clear that some people want football to go the same way. If we want this alternative of pure elitism then we don’t need FIFA. We need more democratic, respected and proactive body. I am not against globalisation. It has helped India grow so much. But it comes with potholes. For instance, EPL makes $50mn from India. How much do the reinvest in India? Zero. I do not have the exact figure of how much UEFA makes from India but how much do they reinvest? Zero.

How do you plan to tackle it?

It is a misconception that FIFA president is a very powerful post. But I intend to make some institutional changes. Three continents are under-represented and that needs to change. For example, Europe with 53 federations has 8 seats. Africa with 54 has only 4. We at FIFA cannot ignore this. If we want to keep FIFA relevant in the future in terms of world governance then we need to be proactive in correcting the inequalities.

You’ve advocated a few revolutionary ideas.

The referees are the persons doing the most difficult job. Most good referees are aged between 35 and 45. They are running after kids who are 25 and can run faster. Most of the stuff happens behind their back. In a split second, they have to take decisions which will be scrutinised and criticised. These guys deserve all the respect. I have made a few concrete suggestions. We cannot accept the players screaming at referees. Hence, I feel only captains should have the right to speak to the referees. If there is any aggressive objection then you move the free-kick by 10 yards. This rule was tested in last year’s u-17 competition but those players are babies and they hardly objected a referee’s decisions.

Second is the concept of sin bins or what I call the orange card. Let me give you a concrete example. In the first half a player gets a yellow because he commits a bad foul. In the second half he scores a goal, takes off his jersey in celebration, gets a second yellow and he is out. You place the referee in a position where he either has to ignore the regulations or to probably distort the end result of the match. So you need to give them another option. This rule exists in basketball, rugby, hockey and other sports. You cannot prevent a referee from giving a red card if the player deserves it.

How much does Pele backing your bid help?

Everyone will agree that Pele is the best footballer in history. He is a man who has been very active against racism and has supported South Africa’s bid. I was privileged to know when I was No.3 at French embassy to Brazil. He was the minister of sport back then and we became friends. To have someone like Pele endorsing me is something incredible as a candidate and a person. I remember I was 12 at my grandma’s place watching him in the 1970 World Cup. It is an honour but also a responsibility because I cannot fail him.

Sepp Blatter focused a lot on India. How do you plan to carry that on?

I have known your country and football because I have closely monitored the projects here with Mr Blatter. Four countries — China, India, USA and Indonesia represent 45 percent of world’s population. These four countries football have a huge margin to grow. Your country has intelligent people, educated people and strong business sector. There are all recipes to succeed. So you have to roll up your sleeves. Now you also have the U-17 World Cup. Don’t miss this opportunity. This is one shot, one opportunity and you cannot allow yourself to miss it.

Regarding the structure of the domestic game in India, do you think a six-week tournament like the Indian Super League can be helpful?

Sometimes it’s an illusion to think that you can change football on national basis with a tournament that will last for six weeks. A lot of people are involved IMG-Reliance project. Let’s wait and see. But I feel we need to solidify the current league, expand second division and increase youth participation. A state like Mizoram winning Santosh Trophy shows that you can succeed even more when you start from scratch. It’s about doing the right things.

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